per capita, and reshape ‘x’ as an
Environmental Efficiency Factor
(EEF).The equation would then appear like this:Environmental pressure = (World population) * (GDP per capita) * EEF
During the last century, population increased by a factor of four, and GDP percapita at least by a factor of five (cf. Tables 1 and 2). World GDP, in result,increased by a factor of at least twenty. Clearly, any descriptive explanation of therise of the ecological crisis has to take these material facts into account. But whatare the long-term prospects of the growth economy? If you ask a contemporaryeconomist, chances are (s)he will maintain that the scope of any reliable economicprediction must be limited to the very near future. As any observant reader of economic news will know, the level of economic growth is at times hard to predicteven a year in advance. And still, your question wouldn’t be quite as silly as itmight sound. After all, how can we possibly deal with the so-called environmentalproblems, if we know nothing at all about the future state of the economy?Decades after the advent of a vocabulary of environmental problems, it isevident that the effect of environmentally friendly advances in technology andlifestyle are in many fields eaten up by growth in the volume of the economy.Moreover, particular problems are often solved through means by which new,often unanticipated kinds of problems arise. There is no such thing as a problem-free technology. Since 1973, the size of the world economy has more than doubled(cf. Table 3). For how long can we expect improvements in terms of what I callthe Environmental Efficiency Factor to go on?What most economists tend to neglect is that the growth economy, consideredas a historical phenomenon, has a beginning, and, in the time scale of civilizations,is likely one day to come to an end. While eternal growth might in theory be adefendable position, it definitely calls for articulated justification. All too often itis simply taken for granted that our economic system is representative of
a futurewithout end
.If there is one assertion mainstream economists seem to find particularlyridiculous, it is this: That growth is no longer an option. And indeed, it would beridiculous to make such an assertion
(for one example, see Goldsmith 2001). Ingeneral, assertions of this kind seem to originate from two environmentalistfallacies. First, the mistaken view that we are running out of resources. Ineconomic terms, however, what can be used as a resource is not given
,rather, it’s a matter of technology. In economic history, there is a clear tendencythat more and more ‘parts’ of the natural environment are made use of and thustransformed into resources. Second, the mistaken view that environmental
Gross Domestic Product is a standard measure of all the economic activity that takes place withina country during a year. Estimates of GDP are normally presented in nominal figures, calculatedat current prices and exchange rates. In this article GDP is to be understood as real GDP, whichis calculated at fixed prices. This enables us to use GDP as a tool in historical comparisons.
If we rearrange this equation, we see that the Environmental Efficiency Factor is defined asEEF = (Environmental pressure)/(world GDP).